Alien: Isolation is one of our most anticipated video games of 2014. That’s kind of hard to believe given the Alien franchise’s recent track record when it comes to games, ranging from 2010’s mediocre Aliens vs. Predator to the downright awful Aliens: Colonial Marines from last year. Isolation leaves behind the pulse rifles and jarheads, instead presenting a xenomorph encounter more in keeping with the tone of Ridley Scott’s original Alien, dropping players into the role of a terrified woman being stalked by a single deadly killer alien. And according to the game’s designers, that fidelity to Scott’s lo-fi vision of the future extends throughout every aspect of Isolation.
The latest Alien: Isolation featurette, dubbed “Lo-Fi Sci-Fi” explores how the designers went back to Ron Cobb’s original concept art when it came time to design the world of the game. Isolation may be unfolding in the future, but it’s the 1970s version of the future featured in Scott’s film. The look of the station, the technology, all of it has a retroactively anachronistic feel that makes the footage completely believable as part of the world that introduced us to the crew of the Nostromo nearly 35 years ago. As Creative Assembly creative lead Al Hope puts it, “It’s chunky, analog, pushbutton technology. This is a world of CRT, not LCD.”
Compare that approach to the sleek, bleeding-edge look of Scott’s own return to the Alien universe, 2012’s Prometheus. I can intellectually understand the decision to ignore that low-tech approach to the original film (which was, admittedly, high-tech for the time), but it presented the same problem as Enterprise did. You have a story that’s unfolding in a well-known fictional universe, depicting that world much earlier in the timeline, but it all looks much nicer and more advanced than the stuff that is supposed to come after it.
Now, I’m not suggesting Scott should have made Prometheus look like a relic from 1979. I’m just saying that it’s amazing how much more Isolation feels like a part of that original universe than Prometheus does. And I think that creative decision may help Isolation to be something really special.
If you’ve somehow missed us drooling over Alien: Isolation over the past few months, here’s the skinny. Set 15 years after the events of James Cameron’s Aliens, Isolation focuses on Amanda Ripley-McClaren, the daughter of Ellen Ripley, as played throughout the series by Sigourney Weaver. If you recall, at the end of Alien Ripley entered cryosleep to wait for someone to rescue her. Aliens has exactly that happen, but Ripley soon learns that she’s been in stasis for 57 years, during which time her daughter Amanda grew old and died. In Isolation we learn that Amanda didn’t just give up on her mother, but kept pursuing answers about what really happened to the missing crew of the Nostromo.
That quest eventually took her to a space station where things go bad in the way they always do in the Alien stories, leaving Amanda creeping through darkened hallways with a bleeping motion tracker, praying that the next turned corner isn’t going to end with a xenomorph tearing her to pieces. Isolation has the potential to be a genuinely terrifying game, something we haven’t seen much since the first Dead Space. But Isolation will put Amanda in a worse situation than even poor Isaac Clarke: the creature stalking Amanda can’t be killed…only escaped.
Alien: Isolation is due for release on October 7, 2014. It will be available for the PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One.